Thanks, Jerry, But This ‘Constitutional Crisis’ Started A Long Time Ago

“We are now in a constitutional crisis”, said Jerry Nadler on Wednesday afternoon, after the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold William Barr in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with a subpoena for Robert Mueller’s full, unredacted report and the underlying evidence.

Nadler was stating the obvious, and he knew it. In remarks to reporters following the 24-16 vote, he effectively acknowledged that America has been mired in a slow-motion constitutional crisis for quite a while. He also underscored the extent to which Donald Trump has very nearly succeeded in consolidating power, a phrase which should be anathema in what was once the world’s foremost democracy.

“There can be no higher stakes than this attempt to arrogate all power to the executive branch away from Congress, and more importantly, from the American people”, Nadler said. Here’s the clip:


Nadler insisted that Congress “will not flinch” in the face of the country’s descent into authoritarian governance, but the truth is, it’s far too late.

As we detailed the day after Barr whitewashed the special counsel report, Trump has effectively established an autocracy, and he’s done it by eroding the public’s sensibilities and numbing GOP lawmakers to words and acts that just three years ago, would have been grounds for immediate removal from office.

Read more: His Victory Complete, Trump Faces A New Challenge: Defining ‘American Autocracy

Trump routinely tramples on press freedom, incites physical violence against his political rivals (Ilhan Omar being the most poignant example), impedes the independence of the central bank, suggests anyone who opposes him is traitorous and obstructs efforts to hold his administration accountable in full view of the public. He often resorts to outright lies when championing his agenda and his reflexive relationship with Fox News has led to the establishment of what amounts to State television.

There is no ambiguity here and, to date, lawmakers have done nothing to put the brakes on. Those with the power to remove him from office have either quit in disgust or else morphed into sycophants. And it wouldn’t matter anyway, because thanks to Trump’s successful effort to turn even the sanest members of his base into raving conspiracy theorists, his supporters wholeheartedly believe that anyone who isn’t named Sarah Sanders, Sean Hannity or Lindsey Graham is a member of the “deep state”.

Earlier Wednesday, Trump asserted executive privilege over the unredacted Mueller report and the underlying documents, which only serves to further water down Nadler’s contempt gambit. Nancy Pelosi will presumably push the contempt resolution in the full House but it won’t matter. The subpoena isn’t enforceable. Legal proceedings against Barr would likely drag on for years, and, ultimately, he is the nation’s top law enforcement official, so who exactly is going to rule against him? Theoretically, the House could send the sergeant-at-arms to arrest Barr and haul him in for a trial before Congress, but that’s so far-fetched as to be laughable.

Nadler’s committee warned that if this is allowed to go on, it would mean that Trump “remains insulated from legal consequences and sits above the law”.

That’s unequivocally true. But, again, it’s not at all clear what can be done.

If the answer is “nothing”, it means that the whole concept of checks and balances was nothing more than a facade. As has been the case in countless societies over the course of history, it turns out that the system rested almost entirely on amorphous aphorisms and high-minded ideals. All it took to topple it was an executive brazen enough to call bullsh*t.

There is no “good” option for Democrats. If they attempt to impeach Trump, he’ll use the proceedings to rally the base ahead of 2020 – he’ll characterize it as a last gasp attempt to nullify the 2016 election result. And oh, the irony. Trump will claim that the only way for Americans to take back democracy is to reelect him in order to show the establishment (the “swamp”) that power resides in “the people”. In reality, they’ll be voting to legitimize rule by authoritarian strongman.

Judiciary ranking member Doug Collins called the vote to hold Barr in contempt a “cynical, mean-spirited, counterproductive and irresponsible step”.

But what’s more “cynical, mean-spirited and irresponsible” than helping Trump pass off a real-time shift to authoritarianism as a full-throated defense of democracy to a base that doesn’t know any better?


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6 thoughts on “Thanks, Jerry, But This ‘Constitutional Crisis’ Started A Long Time Ago

  1. Good post, have been thinking much the same the last few days: that for all the purported “checks and balances” wisdom of the Constitution’s authors, this balance is relatively easy to disable, provided a truly nefarious idiot gains executive power, and sufficient corruption exists in the congressional chambers, the whole grand edifice comes crashing down. And all this in less than 4 years. Reform will come eventually, but by that time too much damage will have been done.

  2. McConnell, Graham, Cornyn, Thune, Barasso, Collins, Murkowski, Ryan, McCarthy, Scalise, Nunes, Meadows, Jordan — the list of GOP quislings and traitors is long and will live in infamy.

    1. I don’t begrudge the Republicans one bit in this. You get what it says on the tin. They will fight for tax cuts, deregulation, crony capitalism, a ridiculous military, and as close to The Handmaid’s Tale as they can get away with. Republicans will color outside of the lines, undermine democratic and independent institutions, the law, media, universities, science, whatever it takes to win. Trump has made the Supreme Court and the Senate his own Privy Councils, and the Fed and Justice Department organs of the White House. This is the culmination of a decades-long effort, none of which is surprising, and none of which Republican voters care one whit about.

      Congress is, by far, the most powerful institution in the Constitution. Over centuries, by deferring to regulatory agencies and the judicial branch to do the hard work of writing law, with lax oversight if the Executive is a member of the same Party as the majority, with deference to the President in defense, foreign policy, and security matters, Congress has abrogated its duty, and now a game-show host with a 90 I.Q. can walk through the door and turn the key to autocracy. BUT, if you think we have an over-powerful President, imagine what the Republicans would do to a Democratic Administration with 47 Senators and the House.

      The two people I blame the most are Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer, who have been played over and over and over again by Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans. They have so constantly and consistently surrendered leverage and power that it makes one think they are paid to lose.

  3. “If the answer is “nothing”, it means that the whole concept of checks and balances was nothing more than a facade.”

    What! What, you mean no frog march?

  4. Let’s take the “30,000” foot view of increasing Presidential authority, and celebrated “strong man” executives. Here’s my list of scoundrels, who were widely criticized by those with opposing views, as power-usurping despots, who were ruining our democracy:
    1. Abraham Lincoln
    2. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
    3. Lyndon Johnson
    4. Richard Nixon
    5. Ronald Reagan
    6. Barrack Obama (yes, check out the daily diatribes from Drudge Report)

    We will survive the current jerk.

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